A minister who values the press
THOUGH he sometimes appears to talk too softly, and too rarely, Pat Rabbitte, once he engages with an issue, is one of the few cabinet ministers who can carry a big ideological stick.
He is also, in this Government, a rare creature in his ability to engage in a critical but reasoned fashion with the media. The Communications Minister's different qualities were in evidence at last week's gathering of the National Newspapers of Ireland, where, without flattery or fawning, Mr Rabbitte defended the ongoing role and importance of "the simple newspaper" in explaining the financial, moral and economic trauma the world has experienced since 2008 with a "depth that has not been matched elsewhere".
Mr Rabbitte may believe that "it is difficult to imagine how a democratic western society would look with a media industry that lacked a strong newspaper sector" but those cabinet enthusiasts for the Berlusconi School of media coverage are, of course, rather less curious. And they are definitely indifferent to Rabbitte's concern that "across Europe, concentration in the ownership of newspapers and other news organisations has the potential to seriously harm the ability of media to report in an independent manner".
In contrast, Mr Rabbitte has firmly nailed his colours to the mast over the dangers to the "interests of the public" posed by "the practice of concentrating media ownership in the hands of a small number of wealthy individuals".
Others, like RTE, should take note.
Mr Rabbitte's thoughtfully expressed statements that "concentration of ownership and control is a valid" concern makes for a refreshing alternative to those Violet Elizabeths who scream and scream and wave Privacy Bills at any newspaper that offends their view of the world. The media is imperfect, but in a State where the chilling effects of the courts on freedom of speech now extend to the sort of caricatures that were permissible in 18th-Century England and summer-school speeches, Mr Shatter should recognise that while licentiousness should be curbed, 'rights' can evolve into a form of oppression. Happily, some politicians like Mr Rabbitte and Joan Burton have such a sophisticated view. Meanwhile, others, like Richard Bruton, appear to have no view at all.